Classical and quantum distinctions between weak and strong coupling
Eur. J. Phys. , Volume 37 - Issue 2, Article number: 025802 p. 1- 15
Coupled systems subject to dissipation exhibit two different regimes known as weak coupling and strong coupling. Two damped coupled harmonic oscillators (CHOs) constitute a model system where the key features of weak and strong coupling can be identified. Several of these features are common to classical and quantum systems, as a number of quantum-classical correspondences have shown. However, the condition defining the boundary between weak and strong coupling is distinct in classical and quantum formalisms. Here we describe the origin of two widely used definitions of strong coupling. Using a classical CHO model, we show that energy exchange cycles and avoided resonance crossings signal the onset of strong coupling according to one criterion. From the classical CHO model we derive a non-Hermitian Hamiltonian describing open quantum systems. Based on the analytic properties of the Hamiltonian, we identify the boundary between weak and strong coupling with a different feature: a non-Hermitian degeneracy known as the exceptional point. For certain parameter ranges the classical and quantum criterion for strong coupling coincide; for other ranges they do not. Examples of systems in strong coupling according to one or another criterion, but not both, are illustrated. The framework here presented is suitable for introducing graduate or advanced undegraduate students to the basic properties of strongly coupled systems, as well as to the similarities and subtle differences between classical and quantum descriptions of coupled dissipative systems.